Drawing parallels between English national team ‘problems,’ U.S. soccer

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England isn’t the only soccer nation suffering from developmental problems. For a long time, American soccer has remained fairly static in its ability to churn out young products who can compete at a world-class level.

The English Football Association has set up a commission to improve the talent pool available for national team selection, and specifically increase the number of Englishmen playing in the Premier League.

“The FA’s investment in and commitment to coaching is exemplified by St. George’s Park [England’s national training center],” FA chairman Greg Dyke (pictured) said during the commission announcement. “The Premier League’s focus on Youth Development through the Elite Player Performance Plan promises much.”

Premier League chairman Anthony Fry added: “It is evident from discussions with the clubs that there is a strong desire to see greater numbers of England-qualified players coming through their Academy systems that are capable of performing at both Premier League and international standard.”

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Before becoming the head coach of the Portland Timbers in 2013, Caleb Porter amassed a record of 119 wins, 18 losses, 17 ties, and one national championship in seven years at University of Akron. (Photo: Getty Images.)

That sounds a lot like U.S. Soccer’s justification for setting up its Development Academy, in which every Major League Soccer club in the U.S. (and the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps) participates. The system is supposed to “provide the best youth players in the U.S. with an every day environment designed to produce the next generation of National Team players” by putting the best players in front of top-level coaches and scouts on a weekly basis.

The biggest problem, which nobody on either side of the Atlantic Ocean has thoroughly addressed so far, is how to ensure the quality of those coaches. Aside from U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Curriculum developed by Claudio Reyna and implemented or ignored by Academy teams as they see fit, the Player Development Task Force created in 2006 has done little to advance the level of play so far.

As Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers put it in an interview with Henry Winter of The Daily Telegraph: “We need to stop blaming the players. The players get the blame in this country. No. It’s the coaching.”

Rodgers’ team plays some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League, as did his previous club, Swansea City. He will be invited to present his opinions to the FA commission, Winter reported, but his views should be heard in the U.S. as well.

St. George’s is a very impressive site, and it’s great that they [England] have the site. But I look at what we had at Swansea: We trained on an AstroTurf pitch at Swansea because we had no facilities. I used to get showered with the public.

We had nothing — absolutely nothing — yet everyone was wondering and talking about how we played football. It’s about football principles and defending those principles with your life. If you can get that fusion between the British players who will work their socks off but also have technique and tactical understanding, then young players will get better and better.

Rodgers named several lower-level and youth coaches who have never been given an opportunity at the higher levels. Instead, the Premier League — and MLS in the U.S. — rely on a merry-go-round of the same coaches, maintaining the status quo instead of evolving to a higher level of soccer.

The possible exceptions that have blossomed in 2013 have been Colorado Rapids coach Óscar Pareja and Portland Timbers maestro Caleb Porter. Pareja started his coaching career in the U.S. youth national team programs and as FC Dallas’ academy director, while Porter coached University of Akron.

Another coach trying to climb up the ranks in the U.S., Paul Dalglish, made similar observations on Twitter:

Dalglish, the son of former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, began his coaching career as an assistant with the Houston Dynamo, followed up by stints in the lower divisions with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Austin Aztex. He is the Lonestar SC technical director.

In February, MLS began a partnership with the French Football Federation to further coaching education among the league’s academies. As part of the agreement, one coach from each club is enrolled in the Elite Formation Coaching License course, which includes first-hand observation of top-level European academies.

France is in an elite group of European nations when it comes to player development, with its Clairefontaine facility churning out Thierry Henry, Hatem Ben Arfa and Abou Diaby, among others. But enrolling less than 20 American coaches in a foreign coaching course and expecting the knowledge to spread to the rest of the nation through osmosis is hardly enough.

The majority of Homegrown Player signings still don’t work. The biggest stars in MLS over the last few years, Landon Donovan aside, have been largely foreign players, much like the Premier League’s top crop. Players who go abroad still find vastly superior development opportunities.

It’s not that this country doesn’t have the coaches and players who could turn the U.S. into a soccer superpower. It’s that those people have been shut out in favor of a largely pedestrian old boys’ club who continually walk through a revolving door of high-level American soccer jobs.

Until that changes, the U.S. will continue to lag behind countries with lower population and less resources.

Report: U.S. U-17 midfielder Reyna to sign for Borussia Dortmund academy

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Another top American youngster is set to head for Germany for the crucial development years of his career.

According to Goal USA, U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team midfielder Giovanni Reyna is expected to join Borussia Dortmund’s academy when he turns 16-years old this November. Reyna is able to head to Europe before his 18th-birthday thanks to a Portuguese passport he received by way of his father, former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna and Claudio’s mother, who was born in Portugal.

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Reyna just finished a tournament in Mexico with the U.S. U-17s, and earlier this summer he led NYCFC’s Under-18/19 team to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy title, despite being just 15 years old. Reyna was also a standout on the U.S. U-15 national team the past couple of years.

While not every American moving to Europe is successful (see: Haji Wright, Junior Flores), there is plenty of good precedent at Dortmund, especially thanks to Christian Pulisic. With Josh Sargent looking strong in the youth ranks and reserves at Werder Bremen and both Pulisic and Weston McKennie (Schalke) starring for the first team for their clubs in Germany, it’s an attractive place for young players – not just Americans – to move to. It’s still much too early to start the hype train on Reyna, but if he impresses in the Dortmund academy over the next two years, he could see a chance to play with the first team by 2020.

One thing to keep in mind is that NYCFC, which has likely spent thousands of dollars investing in coaching and facilities for Reyna’s development – along with other players – is losing him for nothing to Dortmund. And other talented young players, James and Will Sands or Joe Scally, haven’t seen much if any time with the first team.

La Liga plans to play regular-season matches in US

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A regular-season Spanish league game is coming to the United States, possibly as early as this year, but a “clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona is pretty much out of the question.

The league said Thursday it is planning to play a match across the Atlantic as part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote soccer in North America.

[READ: Real Madrid players, manager react to UEFA Super Cup defeat]

The group operates the International Champions Cup, the world’s largest summer club tournament. Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the tournament in Miami last year.

The league gave few details on the planned regular-season game. League president Javier Tebas, however, dismissed the possibility of taking the “clasico” away from Spain.

The league said it is still making arrangements for the game and there is no timetable for when it will happen, but it could be this season.

The Spanish league has been trying to expand internationally for some time, hoping to grow and keep pace with the powerful Premier League in England.

Tebas last year also talked about the league possibly playing a regular-season match in China, and a few days ago the Spanish Super Cup was held in Tangier, Morocco, marking the first time it was played outside Spain. The league game in the United States would be the first to be played outside of Europe.

“Joining with Relevent to create LaLiga North America is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” Oscar Mayo, the league’s international development director, said in a statement. “This agreement ensures not only a bright future for soccer in North America, but also for LaLiga and our clubs.”

The league said “the operation will support the league’s growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches and plans to have an official LaLiga Santander match played in the U.S.”

A decade ago, the Premier League tried to introduce an additional international match but plans for each team to play a 39th game overseas were abandoned amid opposition from FIFA and fan groups.

The Premier League has more exposure than its Spanish counterpart in the United States, in part because of a six-year TV deal with NBC worth about $1 billion.

Since 2012, the Spanish league has been on BeIN Sports, which was received by less than a quarter of American English-language television households even before it recently was dropped by the Comcast Xfinity cable system.

Relevent was founded and is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who called the partnership “the next giant leap in growing soccer’s popularity in North America.”

“This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world,” Ross said.

The Spanish league called the agreement “an inflection point for soccer in the U.S. and Canada,” coming in anticipation of the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted in North America.

Ramirez makes instant impact in first start for LAFC

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Christian Ramirez showed Minnesota United FC exactly what it is missing.

Back home in Southern California, Ramirez scored twice in his first start for Los Angeles FC as the expansion side comfortably held on to a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in mid-week MLS action. It was his first MLS goals since he scored a brace against LAFC four weeks ago.

Once LAFC heard Ramirez was on the market, Bob Bradley and co. quickly snapped him up, and he is already paying dividends.

Playing as a lone striker, Ramirez found himself between two RSL defenders as LAFC took control of the ball off a turnover. Carlos Vela cut inside and delivered a perfect pass to Ramirez, who made a diagonal run away from the nearest defender and then back to the ball. All Ramirez needed was to loop the ball over Nick Rimando’s head in goal to give his side an early lead.

When someone is in good form, the ball seems to just find its way to you, and that’s exactly what happened for Ramirez’s second. Waiting at the far post, Ramirez side-stepped a couple of times to his left before slotting home easily. It showcased solid awareness and anticipation for the 27-year-old striker, who could still have a future with the U.S. Men’s National Team, especially with September friendlies coming up.

Ramirez has always seemed like he was destined to play on a bigger platform, and with LAFC’s impressive first year and numerous placements on national television, Ramirez may finally be getting the respect he’s due.

France is king, USMNT at No. 22 in latest FIFA rankings

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France’s World Cup title has given the nation the coveted No. 1 ranking from FIFA.

In its latest World Rankings, FIFA crowned France as the top team in the world, as well as promoting the U.S. Men’s National Team to  No. 22 in the rankings. The USMNT now sits one spot behind Italy and one place ahead of Austria. England’s semifinal run also boosted the Three Lions to No. 6 in the world.

Both Russia and Croatia earned massive jumps in the rankings based on their excellent World Cup performances. Russia moved an impressive 21 places up to No. 49, while Croatia jumped 16 slots to the top five. Sweden also rose 11 places to No. 13. While Russia and Croatia made big moves up, two nations made moves in the opposite direction. Former World Cup champion Germany fell 14 places to No. 15, Argentina dropped six spots to No. 11 and Iceland and Poland both dropped ten spots. Egypt’s disastrous World Cup cost the national team 20 places, down to No. 65.

Behind France, the rest of the top 10 looks like this: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Uruguay, England, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark. The latter two are both tied for ninth.

The next World Rankings will be released on September 20 following the September FIFA dates. The USMNT returns to action on September 7 against Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey before heading to Nashville to take on Mexico on September 11. England hosts Spain in UEFA Nations League action on September 8 at Wembley Stadium before heading north to Leicester for a friendly match against Switzerland.